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Pope Francis quotes Buddha at interreligious event in Mongolia

Khamba Nomun Khan, the head of the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, accompanied Pope Francis as he made his entrance at the interreligious dialogue event at the Hun Theater in Mongolia on Sept. 3, 2023. / Vatican Media

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Sep 2, 2023 / 22:46 pm (CNA).

In a meeting with Mongolian Buddhists, Shamans, Shintoists, and other religious representatives, Pope Francis said Sunday that interreligious dialogue is “not antithetical to proclamation,” but helps religious traditions to understand each other.

“With humility and in the spirit of service … the Church offers the treasure she has received to every person and culture, in a spirit of openness and in respectful consideration of what the other religious traditions have to offer,” Pope Francis said in a speech in Ulaanbaatar’s Hun Theater on Sept. 3.

“Religious traditions, for all their distinctiveness and diversity, have impressive potential for the benefit of society as a whole,” he added.

Pope Francis met with 12 religious leaders and representatives in the performing arts center on the Bogd Khan Uu mountain overlooking Mongolia’s capital city. The theater is built in the circular shape of a traditional Mongolian nomadic yurt dwelling called a “ger.” The rector of the only Orthodox church in Mongolia, Father Antony Gusev, represented the Russian Orthodox Church at the meeting.

In his speech, Pope Francis twice cited the Dhammapada, the most widely-read Buddhist text that is a collection of sayings of the Buddha.

“The fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind, the fragrance of those who live according to virtue spreads in all directions,’” the pope said, quoting the Dhammapada.

Nearly 90% of Mongolians who identify as religious are Buddhist. Mongolia is also home to a boy who is considered the 10th reincarnation of Buddha, discovered by the Dalai Lama in 2016.

Khamba Nomun Khan, the head of the Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, accompanied Pope Francis as he made his entrance at the interreligious dialogue event.

The religious landscape of Mongolia — once a heartland of Tibetan Buddhism — was dramatically changed by Communist rule.

At the turn of the century, there were an estimated 110,000 Buddhist monks and 700 monasteries in Mongolia.

A French Catholic missionary who visited what is today Mongolia at the end of the 19th century saw the succession of Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia and noted that the vast country would also be well-suited for a Catholic contemplative monastery, a dream shared by Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, Mongolia’s apostolic prefect.

Under the Mongolian People’s Republic’s one-party rule, many monasteries were destroyed and closed and about 17,000 Buddhist monks were killed, while many others renounced religious life.

While in recent years, the country has had a modest religious revival with a movement to rebuild the destroyed Buddhist monasteries after the fall of the Soviet Union, today roughly 40% of Mongolia’s population remains atheist or without a religion.

“May the memory of past suffering – here I think especially of the Buddhist communities – bestow the strength needed to transform dark wounds into sources of light, senseless violence into the wisdom of life, devastating evil into constructive goodness,” Pope Francis said at the meeting.

Gusev, who represented the Russian Orthodox Church at the event, also recalled the persecution Christians experienced in Mongolia in the 20th century, particularly the torture and murder of Orthodox Father Feodor Parnyakov by Russian General Baron Ungern von Sternberg in 1921.

In his speech, Pope Francis quoted another line attributed to the Buddha: “‘The wise man rejoices in giving, and by that alone does he become happy.”

The pope also cited the writings of Mahatma Gandhi on having “purity of heart” and Lutheran existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard on hope.

After Buddhism, Islam and Shamanism make up about 5% of the Mongolian population who expressed a religious identity in the 2020 census.

In Mongolian shamanism, shamans enter trances to communicate and are sometimes possessed by spiritual beings. Animal sacrifice, particularly of horses, is still sometimes part of shamanistic rituals, as well as music, dance, and chanting.

D. Jargalsaikha, the president of the United Union of Shamans of Mongolia, explained that Mongolian shamans “worship the idols of the Eternal Heaven, Emperor Ghengis [Khan], ancestors, and parents.”

Shamanistic practices are also incorporated by many Buddhists in the country. The majority of Buddhists in Mongolia today are Mahayana Buddhists.

In the pope’s first speech to Mongolian government officials, the pope said that “the holistic vision of the Mongolian shamanic tradition, combined with the respect for all living beings inherited from Buddhist philosophy, can contribute significantly to the urgent and no longer deferrable efforts to protect and preserve the planet.”

Christians are a small minority in Mongolia representing 2.2 percent of people who hold religious beliefs in the country. Mongolia’s 1,450 Catholics make up far less than 1% of Mongolia’s 3.3 million people, but Church has been growing with 35 baptisms in the last year.

At the interreligious event, Dambajav Choijiljav, the head of the Zuun Khuree Dashchoilin Buddhist Monastery, and D. Jargalsaikhan, the president of the United Union of Shamans of Mongolia, met the pope and made a speech.

Other religious representatives at the meeting included Adiyakhuu Oktyabri from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a Morman, and a representative from the Mongolian Baha’i community.

“I would like to reassure you that the Catholic Church desires to follow this path, firmly convinced of the importance of ecumenical, interreligious, and cultural dialogue. Her faith is grounded in the eternal dialogue between God and humanity that took flesh in the person of Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis told the religious leaders.

Following the interreligious event, Pope Francis will return to Ulaabaatar’s apostolic prefecture for lunch before presiding over an afternoon Sunday Mass at Mongolia’s Steppe Arena. The 86-year-old pope will make the 11.5 hour return journey to Rome on Monday afternoon.

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  1. Pope Francis’ more open approach, recognizing the good Buddhism and other religions contribute to the virtues, often commonly held truths we all inherently share by natural law can have immense good in any cooperative effort, and possible evangelization. The truth of Christ has the power to achieve that.
    Fidelity to the preeminent truth of Christ is essential, and that is where the the pontiff must focus.
    It seems previous pontiff’s failed in that regard despite their loyalty to Apostolic tradition. At this stage it’s questionable whether Francis would be more effective in addressing the truth of Christ’s revelation, its requirements for salvation, to other faiths. Or will the expanded concept of ecumenism prevent that. Ecumenism was initially intended to unite Christians. The later outreach to other religions has the egregious tendency of amorphization.

    • We read: “… commonly held truths we all inherently share by natural law.” Yes, and to which then is added revelation which both confirms and transforms the natural law.
      How to evangelize this fact to natural religions laminating in a host of cultural accretions? Beyond the possibility of shared and even charitable humanism, what can be said about varied understandings of salvation? How about this:

      “The ‘enlightenment’ experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and of suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external reality–the existing in our human nature [!], in our psyche, in our bodies [….] Buddhism is in large measure an ‘atheistic’ system [italics]. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad” John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” 1994).

      On the eve of his visit to Sri Lanka, also in 1994, the Buddhist population demanded that John Paul II redo his wording. But he declined, and when he arrived in Colombo the crowds overflowed the streets with welcoming delight, anyway! Now how to do the synodal “welcoming” thing in reverse (!), like this as if Jesus Christ matters, and as did St. John Paul II?

      Whatever the formula (including rudimentary but genuine personal respect), distinctively Christian dialogue is always something much more than natural law–in its pluralism of culturally-deformed expressions.

  2. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Bahaism, and Shamanism possess rich potential for an exciting world building.

    • We read: “Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Bahaism, and Shamanism possess rich potential for an exciting world building.”

      World building or whirled blinding?

  3. ‘”[The] faith [of the Catholic Church] is grounded in the eternal dialogue between God and humanity that took flesh in the person of Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis told the religious leaders.’ And all this time I thought our faith was grounded in the supernatural grace afforded us in and by the sacrificial Passion and glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, I learn today that our faith is grounded in an everlasting give-and-take conversation between God and humanity; after all, it seems that according to Pope Francis, the Divine Word did not freely condescend to assume man’s flesh and nature. It appears now that humanity (in it’s somehow presupposed universal cosmic existence) simply took its pound of flesh in the Godhead for its own salvation. The declarations of Pope Francis are becoming more and more deluded and dangerous. How can Pope Francis still be considered the guide of prayer and the spiritual life for Catholics? Oh, I but forget; he is our Dalai Lama.

  4. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Bahaism, and Shamanism.

    One of these is not like the others! Don’t look to Pope Francis for the answer. He should tell you the answer, but mysteriously, he is free not to proclaim Christ. (Mathew 16:23, Mark 8:33).

    In Mozambique, Pope Francis said: “St. Francis of Assisi told his friars: “Go out to the world, evangelize. And, if necessary, use words, too.” Evangelization is essentially witness. Proselytizing is convincing, but it is all about membership and takes your freedom away. I believe that this distinction can be of great help.”

    This is beyond bad theology. These opinions are completely erroneous. Preaching Christ gives freedom! What rot!

    St. Francis never said preach without words. Pope Francis was told or read that lie (from the ‘70s) and he goes around spitting it back out without any proof. Where is the quote? Etc. Everything authoritative written by St. Francis and about him say that he went everywhere proclaiming Christ, even to a Sultan, across enemy lines during a crusade! St. Francis definitely tried to convert the Sultan, saying: If you convert, I will not return to Italy but stay here with you, etc…St. Francis was mysteriously and amazingly commissioned by the Pope to preach the Gospel from the very beginning of the Order. And he left Rome mad began right away. He never stopped speaking about Christ for the next 20 years, except when he was in prayer!

    Pope Francis will not teach. He is beyond theologically confused and actually dangerous when he goes all over the world blurting his private notions. If we love Christ, we must confront his pontificate made up entirely of bad private opinions.

  5. Against the false impression that Pope Francis is innovating here, it must be recalled that the Church’s openness (rather than the past condemnation and judgment) about religious pluralism and enthusiasm for interfaith dialogue started with Vatican II especially in Nostra Aetate which was zealously promoted by the previous popes: John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Pope Francis here is continuing the implementation of Vatican II started by his predecessor.

      • You as deacon should have been better educated about Vatican II’s teaching about the Church’s relationship with and openness to world religions in Nostra Aetate and how St. John Paul II dramatically carried this out for example in the 1986 Assisi Meeting of World Religious Leaders to pray for peace which he convoked. Likewise on the 25th anniversary of this historic meeting, Pope Benedict XVI convoked a similar gathering of leaders of world religions in 2011 also in Assisi. All these meetings with leaders of world religions by Pope Francis are in continuity with his predecessors’ implementation of Vatican II.

    • Since when is diplomacy the same as syncretism? And since when was “dialogue” ever meant to be a silly throwaway word signifying nothing at all other than a feel-good pretentious sentiment?

  6. Taoism, Shintoism and Buddhism are but the players of Satan! The proport to project the truth except that Truth is found only in Christ Jesus!

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